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James Leonard 

Agencies must dig deep to guide clients through this next challenging phase

Agencies must dig deep to guide clients through this next challenging phase

If Boris’ announcement of Lockdown 3.0 taught us anything, it’s that we must fully commit to playing the long game, writes tmwi's director of digital activation, James Leonard

As much as I tried to tell myself that Big Ben welcoming in 2021 didn’t automatically signal life returning to normal (my wife and I were actually trying to get our 7 week old baby to stop crying…), it was still a bit of a blow to wake up on January 1 and realise nothing had changed.

If anything, things do feel a little more bleak than they were before the tree went up and we engaged in our first - and last - Zoom-based Christmas.

As I embarked on the long commute from kitchen to home office again in the first week back of 2021, I felt positive that this year does hold the end for this wretched virus. However, we do still have one last important push, which requires something we’ve all had to muster in the last 10 months or so: stamina.

My job has always taken me on the road. And I’m not talking about travelling into a city-based head office - I mean visiting clients, meeting media owners, pitching for new business and everything that being an agency digital director involves. I thrive on the interaction and the conversation, on meeting new people and visiting new places.

2020 was a test for us all in different ways and it looks as if the personal and professional challenges will continue into 2021, whether that’s managing remote teams, juggling home-schooling (I’m lucky my two aren’t quite that old, yet), or advising clients how best to tackle the months ahead.

And if Boris’ January 4 announcement of Lockdown 3.0 taught us anything, it’s that we must fully commit to playing the long game. We are not returning to normal, nor are we resuming the normal we had got used to before Christmas. We are now in an altogether different scenario of total lockdown in winter.

Consumers’ morale, mood and, more often than not, bank balances are being impacted. Clients’ appetite to adapt and ability to second guess consumer behaviour is being seriously tested.

As an agency we must once more rise to the challenge to guide our clients through the next six weeks or more, advising them on how best to reach their audiences, optimising any imminent campaign work both before activation and in real time and reacting to the rapidly changing news agenda to ensure messaging is accurate and timely.

Working with retail and travel clients, we are acutely aware of commercially vital periods, and in any other year a focal point of our travel advertising calendar is Boxing Day when we launch our latest campaigns, targeting those people who are starting to turn their attention to their summer holiday.

However, the combination of Covid travel bans, quarantine laws and now our departure from the EU, has left a cloud of uncertainty hanging over our 2021 holiday plans. For these clients, along with many others, we could not be further from business as usual, pivoting strategies as new information arises.

There is no playbook for this situation. No one knows the right thing to do and, indeed, there is quite possibly no right thing to do. It is up to us to use our experience and expertise to carve out a strategic marketing plan that will see our clients through this very difficult period unscathed and with as little, if any, impact to the bottom line as possible.

Thankfully, the prevalence and standard of real time data means we have the ability to work out where and how our audiences are behaving, even in unusual times. As an agency, we are data-led, using complex media models to help predict behaviour based on historical and real time data points.

Regional geo-targeting, analysis of online conversation, creative message testing, dynamic creative optimisation, analysing footfall and using mobile data to see where people are at any one time all help us drive effective advertising.

Digital campaigns will come into their own for their ability to be optimised in real time, while carefully crafted messaging and sensitive content will help create an emotional connection with consumers.

The ability to pivot and to change plans with little notice will once again become key, and agencies must work closely with their clients and media owner partners to minimise disruption.

So, too, must we help guide our own teams through the next period of uncertainty as remote working continues to keep us away from the office and all the usual human interaction on which so many people depend.

Colleagues who live alone, are vulnerable or who have young children will all need extra support to manage their workload, and no one, regardless of their personal circumstances, should be considered exempt from the mental health challenges that this third lockdown presents.

If we all pull together - clients and colleagues alike - I’m certain we’ll come out stronger and more integrated, ready for the many exciting campaigns ahead.

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